A New England (2:14)

Cover of Back to Basics

From Back to Basics and 43 other releases

“A New England” is a song by Billy Bragg that was successfully covered by Kirsty MacColl in 1984. Produced by her then-husband Steve Lillywhite, the song was her biggest solo hit - reaching #7 in the UK charts and #8 in Ireland.

Bragg’s original version of the song, included on his album Life’s a Riot with Spy Vs Spy, had only two verses. MacColl thought the song was too short, and so Bragg wrote a further two verses for her, which she consolidated into one. Since MacColl’s death, Bragg has included the additional verse in performances of the song as a tribute.

According to the A New England Songfacts, Bragg’s original version was first played by influential BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel because Bragg heard him lamenting on air that he’d do anything for a vegetable curry. The inventive Bragg sped to Radio 1 with a copy of his mini-album and a curry. Peel proceeded to play the track at the wrong speed.

The opening lines of the song (“I was 21 years when I wrote this song/I’m 22 now, but I won’t be for long”) are identical to the opening lines of Paul Simon’s song “Leaves That Are Green,” which appears on Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album Sounds Of Silence. In concert, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on 27 September 2006, Bragg stated that Simon and Garfunkel had a strong influence on him, and that he took the line from their song intentionally.

Bragg says that the song had its origins in seeing two satellites flying alongside each other. Searching for romantic inspiration, he had to make do with “space hardware”.

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